Cross training in Trail Running

Trail running is a physically demanding discipline that involves running on natural terrain, and only a maximum percentage of 30% of the distance can be on asphalt roads. The races are usually through mountains, some with a lot of positive slope, others with more negative slope, and always over different types of terrain: forest, dirt, sand, uphill, downhill, rock, etc. Regardless of the distance or modality, from a 10 km sprint to a 100 mile ultra, or a vertical kilometer, running with uneven terrain requires that our whole body is prepared to face the high demands of a mountain race.

Training for trail running is not enough to just go for a run. In order to prepare well, constant and varied training is necessary, which, if it is not well planned, can result in injuries and overloads. Our athlete Enzo Ferrari, ultra distance runner and specialised trail running coach, explains that one way of subjecting the body to different stimuli without wearing it out is through cross-training.

What is cross-training and what is it for?

When we talk about cross-training, we are referring to all the disciplines that we can work on to complement the specific work of our sport. In the case of trail running, the basic training will be running: on the road, on the hill, uphill, downhill, long runs, speed repetition work, more or less intense runs, a whole range of possibilities. The important thing is that each of these training sessions is planned with an objective purpose. It is not about running for the sake of running, but about having a structured plan to reach our goal.

And to complement our main activity we use cross-training, which allows us to work on consecutive days with the same intensity and objective, giving the body the space to generate the necessary adaptations and repairs without over-demanding it. If your main sport is mountain running, you can complement it with road and/or mountain biking, trekking, long walks, swimming, yoga, functional training, weight training, or any other sport that without being your main training allows you to work on the same aspects: endurance, strength, aerobic capacity, flexibility, anaerobic capacity, speed, etc.

Enzo explains that “cross-training allows you to work on the same skills you work on in sport, but in a less invasive way”. And he points out that not all coaches are in favour of it, but that for him it is very important because it allows us to maintain the demand through the variation of stimuli. “For example, if on Saturday you do a 40km long run with 2000m of positive elevation gain, which is an intense workout, I can’t ask you to do another long run on Sunday, but I can tell you to do 60 or 100km of cycling. Because after a tough trail training session the muscles are tired, there is some joint inflammation and you could not do a similar training session well the next day, but you could do its analogue on the bike”.

Strength work on the trail

And one of the parts of this complementary training that is indispensable and is often neglected or taken less seriously than it needs to be is strength work. Enzo tells us that we must strengthen all the muscle groups in the body. “Obviously the muscles of the legs, working both the back and the front, to be able to cope well with the ups and downs and resist long periods of movement. But also the musculature of the middle zone, which is what keeps the body in balance and helps to prevent injuries and to have a good posture”, which is key, especially over long distances. The arms and the whole upper body should also be worked, regardless of whether you use poles or not, because as Ferrari points out, “if you don’t use poles, you probably put your hands on your knees to climb, but you’re still going to be using your arms to propel yourself. Or you might have to climb a rock or you might have to climb up ropes. Or you just fall down and put your hands up, and if your arms aren’t strong enough to support your body weight at speed, you can smash your head on the ground.

For Enzo, trail running is a discipline that encompasses so many edges and has so many variables, that the body has to be prepared for everything, inside and out. You have to be able to withstand hours of running, on changing terrain, you need specific strength to climb, to descend and to keep the pace flat, you have to be able to cope with different weather conditions, to hold out until the next refuelling point if you run out of water or food, and many other things . That’s why for him in a way “trail running is almost like going to war, but in a controlled way”.

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